Will the Stars Align in Vegas?
On Tuesday, the WNBA released a statement announcing the departure of its San Antonio Stars franchise to a new location: Las Vegas. The Stars, who have not announced whether or not they will be changing their name, will be owned and operated by MGM Resorts International, a Las Vegas based group that owns and operates various casinos/hotels in Las Vegas, such as Mandalay Bay, the MGM Grand, and the Bellagio. The Stars’ home arena will be the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center (not the T-Mobile Arena, where the newly-created Las Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL play their home games). Bill Laimbeer will be leaving his position as head coach of the New York Liberty to become president and head coach of Las Vegas.
The move will sever the partnership between the Stars and their sister NBA franchise, the San Antonio Spurs. And it puts the Stars in the heart of the pro sports boom that’s happening in Vegas. Sin City just acquired the Stars and the Golden Knights, and the Los Angeles Raiders of the NFL are set to move there by 2020. What will this mean in terms of the team’s popularity? Having a sister franchise has been a boon to WNBA teams in the past, as it gives them opportunities for cross-promotion, and such teams have historically done a more sustainable job of promoting their franchises. What will the market look like for a WNBA team in Vegas, a market that’s getting its first ever professional basketball team?
Las Vegas has never had a professional sports team before this year, so it’s tough to say. But we can’t really ignore that gambling will be a factor. MGM Resorts International operates many high-end casinos in Vegas, and it would be in their interest to promote gambling on the WNBA; now they have an avenue by which to do it. In fact, the Stars aren’t the only team to be owned by a casino: Mohegan Sun owns the Connecticut Sun, who, when they relocated in 2003, changed their name (from the Orlando Miracle) to match up with the branding. The move could even be a stepping stone to Las Vegas acquiring its own sister NBA franchise, and with how quickly the city has been acquiring pro teams, it certainly could be possible.
By: Michael Negrin
WNBAinsidr Contributing writer